Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Are NYPL Trustees Flying Blind on The Basics? Numbers To Inform Them About The Drastic Dwindling of Books In Manhattan’s Principal Libraries Are Missing From Their Minutes

Demonstrators outside 42nd Street Central Reference Library during the November 20th NYPL Trustees meeting- On right, Simon Verity-drawn banner: "Trustees- On Your Watch" 
What do the New York Public Library Trustees know about what is going on their watch?  Here’s a most basic question: Do they have any idea of the number of books they are making available to the public, and that the number of books in Manhattan’s most important libraries is significantly shrinking?  The indications are they’re in the dark.
From 1987 to an envisioned 2015 (with an implemented Central Library Plan), how total number of books in Manhattan's principal libraries is declining drastically.  Over 12 million books in 1996 and 2003 to perhaps 4.2 million books (or even far fewer?) when CLP is implemented.  Starting figures in the graph for 1987 and 1992 are graphed lower than than they actually should be because they don't include unknown numbers for Mid-Manhattan and Donnell
I am reliably informed that the minutes for the last ten years of NYPL trustee meetings contain nothing about the number of books in the principal and most important libraries in Manhattan even as deals are being finagled to sell and precipitously shrink those libraries.
From and earlier NNY Article- 1987 to an envisioned 2015 (with an implemented Central Library Plan), total actual midtown Manhattan Library destination space actual and planned, first going up and then going lower than ever before
Maybe I give the trustees too little credit.  Oughtn’t they be able to infer that the number of books available in the libraries would significantly decline when library real estate is sold off and book shelves are kept half full?  See:  Thursday, November 21, 2013, Drastically Reducing Manhattan’s Main Library Space (At City Expense), The NYPL Was Only Just Recently Increasing Its Space (At City Expense), and  Saturday, September 14, 2013, Empty Bookshelves As Library Officials Formulate A New Vision of Libraries: A Vision Where The Real Estate Will Be Sold Off.

Or are they even paying attention to those things?
Still, shouldn’t it really work in reverse?  Shouldn’t those overseeing the administration of libraries start with a reckoning of how many books they have and want to make available to the public, with the real estate deals being worked out only afterward?

Exactly how many books have gone missing from Manhattan’s principal libraries without the library trustees paying the matter any note?  A lot. . . . Well over half. . . .  Perhaps two-thirds or more: What may have been thirteen million books or more in total, reduced to perhaps 4.2 million or less.

In April 1996 there were at least twelve million books in Manhattan’s principal libraries: the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, the Mid-Manhattan Library, the Science Industry and Business Library (SIBL) and that doesn’t count the collections and materials that were then in 53rd Street’s Donnell Library, a five-story, 97,000 square foot library across from MoMA.  It is a relatively safe supposition that by 2003 those libraries, including Donnell, contained at least thirteen million books and related items their collection.*
(* FOOTNOTE- added April 13, 2014: On March 26, 2014, the NYPL contacted Noticing New York and Citizens Defending Libraries with respect to this November 27, 2013 Noticing New York article, calling into question whether the book count figure published in the New York Times in 1996 from which these numbers derive was exactly accurate.  The NYPL suggested substituting another number that appeared to be misleading and less accurate for that purpose.  Since that time the NYPL has not been forthcoming with requested numbers to inform the public about the number of books that were in it's libraries, the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, including the Bryant Park Service Extension, the 42nd Street Annex, Mid-Manhattan, the Science, Industry and Business Library, the Donnell Library and the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, and how those numbers are changing.  Notwithstanding, the NYPL provided a book count figure for some of the materials in the Central Reference Library, that was startlingly more than what it is estimated might be kept, whether or not the NYPL low-balled that provided number.  An additional update- On March 11th, NYPL president Tony Marx testified at the City Council budget hearing that his goal was to have "capacity" for 4.2 million books under the consolidating shrinkage of the Central Library Plan, but that the NYPL didn't yet know if they would achieve even that.  He was also very careful to be clear that he was only stating the "capacity" they were hoping for, not the actual number of books that would be kept. Is it fair to guess that the actual number of books ultimately kept could be as low as only 3.5 to 4 million?  This footnote will be updated with a link providing more information.) 
But Donnell has now been sold to be replaced by something that will be relatively bookless and largely underground buried in the bottom of a fifty-story luxury hotel and residential building.  Its collections were sent away (to be included now in these reckonings).  Further, with the Central Library Plan (aka “the 42nd Street Library Renovation”), Mid-Manhattan and SIBL will be sold off entirely, and the research stacks of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library that famously holds most of its books will be largely demolished and decommissioned, no longer fulfilling the stacks original purpose.  The NYPL’s 42nd Street Annex that held additional books nearby has also been sold off by the NYPL.  How many books will the NYPL house when the Central Library plan is effectuated?  The figure of 4.2 million could be a generous estimation, and that number can only be estimated as that high provided that all the book storage that was created to store books under Bryant Park is brought on line.
Bryant Park excavated to add library shelves for more books
Yes, that’s right, for those who did not know, there is book shelf space serving the 42nd Street Central Reference Library under Bryant Park.  We closed Bryant Park for more than four years to create the under-park space.  The park was reopened and some books were moved into it starting in 1992.  The new shelf space was created to hold more than 3.2 million additional books (about 84 miles of books) where they could be more readily accessed by researchers using the Central Reference Library.   Despite original plans, only the top floor of the new facility is presently in use, reportedly holding about 1.8 million books while the bottom floor could hold another 1.4 million.  (See: Saturday, February 9, 2013, Libraries That Are Now Supposedly “Dilapidated” Were Just Renovated: And Are Developers’ Real Estate Deals More Important Than Bryant Park? and Library Starts Road to 84-Mile Shelves Under Park, by Susan Heller Anderson, October 27, 1987.
From an earlier Noticing New York article concerning the building of the under-park shelving 

The research stacks of the Central Reference Library around which that celebrated library was built (both conceptually and structurally) hold 3 million books, although the stacks were recently emptied as the NYPL readied them for the demolition to proceed with the Central Library Plan.  In 1987, before the addition of the shelves under Bryant Park, the Central Reference Library held those three million books in the principal stacks plus, in other of its rooms, another 352,000 or more additional books, 88 miles of books in total.  Most of those other books aren’t there now either.

I recently spoke with a film location scout who had visited the Central Reference Library looking for a site to shoot a scene that would have a library room with books in the background.  The NYPL couldn’t oblige him.  He said that administrators explained that, aside from the Rose Reading Room (to which books from the stacks are brought to researchers), they recently had only two other rooms with books in them.  So I guess if you want to remake Ghostbusters or a lot of other good movies from the past in that setting you will have to bring in either the CGI guys or an expensive load of props.  It’s not just the ghosts you will have to be faking.

When the additional space was built for stacks under Bryant Park it was intended that the Central Reference Library would hold 6.2 million research books.  In a pinch it would have been able to hold 6,552,000 books.  But remember these figures are just for books in the Central Reference Library and don’t add in the books for the other nearby central Manhattan libraries.

In 1996 when SIBL was opened there were reportedly 12 million books at the 42nd Street library locations (that’s exclusive of the Donnell books that were just a quick eleven-block walk uptown).  1.2 million books were moved from the Central Reference Library’s reference collection (about 32 miles of books) to SIBL and another 40,000 circulating books were moved there from Mid-Manhattan.  Now the NYPL is selling SIBL (for which we paid $100 million) and has therefore been getting rid of most of those books.

The Central Library Plan proposes that the 42nd Street Central Reference Library books would be reduced to what fits under Bryant Park, just 3.2 million books, fewer than were in the Central Reference Library when in the 1980s we made the sacrifice of closing Bryant Park to expand the library’s capacity.  Further away, these books under Bryant Park would not be as quickly accessible for readers as research books in the originally designed stacks.

How many more books and related items would there be in the library in addition to those reference books?  Some at least because a circulating library to replace both Mid-Manhattan and SIBL would have to have books and materials.  As I noted, 40,000 circulating books were moved from Mid-Manhattan to open SIBL in 1996.  But as the shelves of both these libraries are now startlingly barren and the library seems intent on getting rid of books.  I don’t know that it is fair to assume that the collection of circulating books in the space intended to replace those libraries would even be 80,000 books altogether.  Nevertheless, I have generously estimated that the replacement circulating library might have as many as 100,000 books and have used that figure for the graph.  If you prefer you can imagine a more precipitously falling line.

Whatever number of books kept for circulation purposes they would all have to fit, together with reading and ambulation space for the patrons, into a much smaller amount of space than they came from that would be crammed into and replace what is currently the space of the research stacks.  In the last released Central Library Plan design that meant fitting into 80,000 square feet created by demolishing the stacks.*  The space, 80,000 or whatever, would have to accommodate what had been in the approximately 300,000 square feet of Mid-Manhattan and SIBL combined.
(* Because the research stacks are so efficiently designed with only 7.5 foot ceilings, they effectively constitute, before demolition, about 160,000 square feet in terms of book stack storage space.)
The NYPL has issued public statements to the effect that a new design for the Central Library Plan will keep some of the research stacks, repurposing them for circulation use.  Perhaps the new design will also slightly increase the overall square footage as well but it will no doubt be exceedingly challenging and, in the end, insufficient.

I contacted the spokesperson for the NYPL to ask about the absence in the minutes of information for the trustees about the declining number of books.  My inquiry was as follows:
In recent years, there has been a terrific downsizing of the number of books and materials available at the major library sites in Manhattan, the 42 Street Central Reference Library, Donnell, Mid-Manhattan, SIBL, the Annex.  It is my understanding that the minutes for the NYPL trustee meetings contain essentially no information about the level of book storage and the numbers of materials and books in these various places.  (Please correct me if you think I am wrong, citing the information you think the minutes do contain that give information over the years about how many books and materials are being kept at these libraries.)

Would you please address for me why the trustees are being asked to oversee major changes in the availability of library assets, together with significant accompanying physical changes to these libraries, without such information being a matter of review at these meetings?  Or, if it is your understanding that these facts were subjects of the trustees’ review as the facts were changing over the years, can you please explain why such facts central to the status and administration of the libraries would not have been included in the minutes afterward?
The response I got was that because Citizens Defending Libraries (a group of which I am a co-founder) is a plaintiff in lawsuit against the NYPL he could not, as the NYPL spokesperson, provide a response.  The good news is that there is this lawsuit to which he referred and another that have thus far impeded the Central Library Plan’s planned demolition, thereby also its consolidating shrinkage banishing books.

No matter that the lawsuit was given as a reason for the NYPL not to respond to my question, it is my understanding that the NYPL is not responding to other news media putting such questions to them irrespective of any lawsuits or the absence thereof.  Not only should the NYPL trustees have been informed with specificity about the number of books that are being kept and the number of books that are being banished, the fact of the matter is that the public should be similarly informed.  The public pays for the libraries and is being asked to foot the bill for the consolidating shrinkage of the Central Library Plan which, it turns out, can only be accomplished at huge cost.

The idea that our New York City libraries needn’t have books is not isolated to Manhattan or the NYPL.  It is being exported to Brooklyn, affecting libraries run by the Brooklyn Public Library.  The other day a neighbor of ours stopped by the Brooklyn Heights Library with her daughter.  The Brooklyn Heights Library is the biggest, most important library in Brooklyn, second only to the what is officially the main library at Grand Army Plaza.  It is a main library comparable to Manhattan’s Donnell, Mid-Manhattan or SIBL and, because of its accessible location, the Brooklyn Heights library is perhaps even more important than the main library at Grand Army Plaza.
Crowd assembling for entry to Brooklyn Heights Libary on a wintery morning earlier this year
Our neighbor and her daughter wanted to look at books about art history.  They were stunned to find out the library had only one book available.  The librarian there offered that if they knew what they wanted he could likely order up books that they specified and have them there in perhaps a day or so.  That’s not what they wanted.  They wanted to see books immediately.  They had come to the library because what they wanted to do they needed to do that night.  And they also wanted to browse.  They didn’t know ahead of time exactly what they might want see.  That’s why they wanted to look and to discover what interested them by looking at a lot of books and surveying the options.
The NYPL is similarly inclined to think that having books elsewhere than at the libraries is satisfactory.   The NYPL is participating on a coordinated basis with the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) in the very same central processing and storage “Book-Ops” approach (handled out of Long Island City, Queens) that means that books won’t be readily found at the system branches and will have to be ordered.  That’s the approach that resulted in there being no art history books to be found at the Brooklyn Heights Library.  And the NYPL believes it is quite sufficient if Central Reference Library books (any that they haven’t, in fact, gotten rid of entirely) can, upon identification, be ordered and arrive in a number of days from Princeton in southern New Jersey.
Trustee Luis A. Ubiñas left praised Trustee and Vice Chair Annette de la Renta right, for . . .?
Respecting the trustees being in the dark about the rapid disappearance of books from the library, it may be worse than you think.  Rather than the trustees receiving no information, no numerical figures about how many books are no longer in the library; they may actually be receiving and dealing in misinformation.

At the last NYPL trustees meeting, held November 20th, two trustees were being singled out for special recognition.  One of them was Vice-Chairman Annette de la Renta (wife of Oscar de la Renta).  Trustee Luis A. Ubiñas was one of those who took the lead in praising Ms. de la Renta.  He did so in terms of praising what was happening in the NYPL system generally.

What did he say?  He said that:
 . . . those libraries have more books in them, in this era when books are evidently vanishing, than they have ever had before.
Really?  What universe is he talking about?  Did he express this in terms of any figures he supplied?  No.  Did he, in fact, have any idea of what he was talking about?  Did Ms. de la Renta as she was being so praised know whether there was any truth in what she was being praised for?  Did she know relevant numbers?  Did she know, for instance, if the number of books in the big central libraries in Manhattan was around 13 million in 2003?  That it is now dramatically down from that number?  That it was headed to maybe 4.2 million or perhaps less with the implementation of the Central Library Plan over which she was presiding?

What do you think?  It's rather awful if she didn't know.  Still what is worse: Presiding over such a profound diminishment in the number of these libraries books not knowing these numbers. . . . or knowing the numbers?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Drastically Reducing Manhattan’s Main Library Space (At City Expense), The NYPL Was Only Just Recently Increasing Its Space (At City Expense)

The South Court addition which in 2002 added another 42,222 square feet of needed space to the 42nd Street Central Reference Library
The New York Public Library (NYPL) is in the middle of drastically reducing the space in Manhattan’s most important central, destination libraries.

When do you suppose the NYPL was last expanding the space it is now reducing, asserting at the time that the space they then had was insufficient? . .

. .  A not so unimportant, `by the way’ on this (before we revel the answer) is that the huge upcoming reduction of space the NYPL’s proposes in its Central Library Plan (aka “42nd Street Library Renovation), the elimination of 300,000 square feet of space will come at significant New York City taxpayer expense, at least $150 million dollars. . .  Just as the not so long ago expansion of space came at New York City taxpayer expense.

The NYPL’s significant reduction of important midtown Manhattan library space began in 2007 with the sell-off of the Donnell Library on 53rd Street across from MoMA between 5th and 6th Avenues.  The 97,000 square foot, five-story library was sold off at far less than its value to the public.

When then do you think the last expansion of library space before that was?

Was it in 1992 when the city-paid-for Bryant Park expansion was completed?  This expansion, begun in 1987, involved closing Bryant Park for more than four years in order to put 84 miles of bookshelves underneath it and was designed to take the 42nd Street Reference Library’s immediately accessible book collection up to a capacity of 6.2 million books, may be as many as  6.7 million books in a pinch.-  No, the last expansion wasn’t in 1992.

Was it in 1996 when the expansion effected by the city-paid-for Science, Industry and Business Library expansion was completed with the opening of that library?-  No, the last expansion wasn’t in 1996

What about 2000 when the NYPL put out its plans to expand (nearly double the size of) the Mid-Manhattan Library by 117,000 square feet?  Or 2001, the year that the Giuliani administration awarded the city funds to effect that expansion?   2003, when those Mid-Manhattan expansion plans were still in effect, the NYPL still intending to go forward with them?  (The Mid-Manhattan expansion plans were set aside later after Chief Operating Officer David Offensend joined the NYPL in 2004.)   No, it was not 2000, 2001 or 2003.

The last expansion of the NYPL’s Manhattan space was in 2002 with the completion of a city-paid-for expansion of the Central Reference Library that boosted the size of the Main Building by about 8%, 42,222 square feet, because, as the then President of the NYPL said, additional space was needed.  The expansion was the addition of the Central Reference Library’s new South Court.

Building up library space at taxpayer expense until 2002 and then selling it starting with Donnell in 2007?: There's a startling lesson in how fast ambitions can pivot.
Schematic of the South Court addition published in Metropolis Magazine
The South Court expansion is an addition to the library that is likely off most people’s radar even though it was quietly spectacular about the way it squeezed in extra hidden space.  That’s because it involved filling in what had been a central courtyard within the building and much of it was built underground.  See:  Inside Stories / Six new floors rise within the main branch, Lifestyle Newsday, May 21, 2002, by Mary Voboril.
Schematic of the South Court addition published in Metropolis Magazine
South Court looking up from main entry
The South Court expansion was built when Dr. Paul LeClerc was president of the NYPL.  The project took  two and half years starting in 1999 and finished in 2002 at a total cost of $29 million.  Most of that cost, $17.5 million, was paid for by the city.  The six-floor project with 40 feet below street level, going below the original foundations, added 42,222 square feet to the main building's 527,000 square feet.  (Others supply what may be rounded off figures of 40,000 square feet added to 500,000 square feet.)  The above-ground portion of the expansion brings it to about the same height as the rest of the building.  Originally, when approvals were being sought for a smaller version, the public was inaccurately told that building deeper underground was not possible.
Indeed, South Court has a lot of space that was squeezed in by adding it underground
Contemplation of such a project went back to the 1980s before the SIBL expansion and was undertaken shortly after completion of the SIBL expansion and the renovation of the Rose Reading Room.  In 1998 it was originally envisioned as a smaller expansion of 28,400 square feet of space that would have cost considerably less, only $10 million, to build and another $5 million to equip.   In September of 2000 when construction was underway it was estimated that the cost of the project would be significantly less than it turned out to be: $22.5 million vs. the final $29 million.
On the south side of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, the arch leading into the South Court where horse-drawn carriages once entered
The courtyard was open and viewable from the street through an arch that used to admit horse-drawn carriages and was used for loading and unloading.  The space had been used to an extent in other ways: “A trellis-covered bungalow” was added in 1919 as a “rest and luncheon room” for employees.”  And there was a “shed” in it used by exhibition staff.  (See: For Public Library, New Building Within the Old One,
By Edwin McDowell, September 17, 2000 and Metropolis Magazine December 1969 / Taming the NYPL’s LionsTaming the NYPL’s Lions, by Karen Steen.)

In 1998 the Slavic and Baltic Division overlooked the 80 x 80 foot court yard where the 73 by 73 foot expansion was built, leaving 3 1/2 foot clearance all around.

The Slavic and Baltic Division?  Now closed!
From the NYPL, South Court years ago
South Court before constriction of the expansion published in Metropolis Magazine
Said President Le Clerq at the time:
As we renovated public spaces in the building, including moving the copying center from the main reading room, we knew we needed some place for people we were displacing.
Another change since 2002, Metropolis Magazine reporting on the addition and interviewing Le Clerq explained how the Central Reference library stacks could be seen then from the new South Court and referred to those stacks as "sacrosanct": 
South Court even gives patrons a glimpse of the books themselves—through narrow windows that look in on the sacrosanct stacks.
As part of the Central Library Plan the current library administration has envisioned demolishing the "sacrosanct" stacks and decommissioning them from their intended use around which the entire 42nd Street Central Reference Library was designed.
South Court no longer gives patrons a glimpse of the books themselves.  Now you see the empty bookshelves
Glimpse into the now empty research stacks from South Court
Needed more space in 2002?

From 1987 to 1992, the years during which the Bryant Park expansion of the stacks and books was being constructed, the total NYPL central destination Manhattan library space was 763,000 square feet.  That figure includes the main buildings, not the book storage space in the 42nd Street Annex building the NYPL also owned and now no longer owns, additional real estate it has divested itself of.  In 2002 when South Court was completed, the square footage of such NYPL space (again, not counting the purely book storage space like the additional stacks under Bryant Park) was 965,222 square feet with the NYPL planning to go up to 1,082,222 square feet with the planned Mid-Manhattan expansion.
From 1987 to an envisioned 2015 (with an implemented Central Library Plan), total actual midtown Manhattan Library destination space actual and planned, first going up and then going lower than ever before
But now Donnell is gone, the $100 million SIBL which increased space substantially, is being sold off.  The consolidating shrinkage of the Central Library Plan would shrink current space down to just 569,222 square feet, significantly less than the 763,000 figure for the late 80s and early 90s and certainly less than the recently envisioned 1,082,222 square feet.  If the largely underground and bookless replacement for Donnell is completed by 2015 as the NYPL says it currently hopes, that figure would be just a bit larger, 597,222, still below the figures for the space the library had in the 1980 when the city had a population about a million fewer than the slightly over 8 million population in New York City now.
Does any of this make sense except in terms of handing off real library real estate to developers in deals that benefit them, but not the public?  Including what was spent to put stacks under Bryant Park, over $150 million was spent since the end of the 1980s to expand library space.

Yesterday, at the NYPL’s trustees meeting, the trustees were told that the NYPL still envisions going forward with the Central Library Plan, that it is "moving along."  In that regard it was reported to the trustees that the NYPL was having 'conversations’ and "working with" with Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and, in addition, the members of the City Council and the members of the entire new, incoming administration. .  .  "to make sure we are all, as it were, headed in the same direction."  “Working on” these people might have been a better phrase.

It was in the news that Mayor-elect de Blasio was visiting the “talking transition tent” yesterday (the transition tent was set up independent of de Blasio.)  Though it was not reported elsewhere in the news, NYPL president Tony Marx told the trustees that he had been at the talking transition tent when de Blasio was there.  (It was reported that the NYPL was doing what it could to influence public feedback input to the transition tent operation, including linking to the online transition tent survey with its questions about libraries.- Or ideas can be submitted too.)  At about the same time Mayor-elect de Blasio was at the talking transition tent troops from  Citizens Defending Libraries (I'm a cofounder of CDL) were also there handing out flyers urging that city libraries not be sold, shrunk and underfunded as under the Bloomberg administration.  More Citizens Defending Libraries and Committee to Save the New York Public Library troops were outside (and at) the trustees meeting delivering the same message.
Troops gathered at the beginning of a more than two hour protest outside Wednesday's NYPL trustee meeting
Mr. Marx and the rest of those running the NYPL are aware that unless the NYPL can convince Mayor de Blasio and new administration cohorts to spend $150 million taxpayer dollars and allow what might be close to a half billion in public funds in total to be spent on selling and shrinking libraries, the Central Library Plan won’t proceed as planned.  Spend all that public money on shrinking and selling libraries?  Does the NYPL have any reason to be optimistic that they can swing de Blasio on this?  The trustees were told that so far the "conversations" were going "very well" and in the perverse view of the NYPL, "going in a positive direction." - The direction of shrinking way down the recently increased space?
Photo and drawings by Simon Verity

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Too Little Information And Perhaps No Good Explanation: Can Anyone Say Why Methodist Hospital Should Be Expanding When Nearby LICH Is Closing?

Preserve Park Slope's flyer announcing the Thursday Community Board 6 meeting about the LICH expansion
I usually like to have more information before I write an article, but maybe the fact that I have so little information to provide here is evidence that the public has far too little information about some significant and very big decisions that are being made concerning development in the historic brownstone neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope, and, in connection therewith, the health and hospital systems serving those neighborhoods and the rest of Brooklyn . . .

. . .  There is a public hearing scheduled before Brooklyn’s Community Board 6 for 6:00 PM, this coming Thursday, November 21st (John Jay High School, 237 7th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY).   Will the public be equipped with the information it needs to deal with it?  The hearing is about the proposed 500,000 square foot expansion of Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, an expansion that will apparently increase the previously reported size of the hospital’s physical plant by about 60%.  That’s ostensibly all that the hearing is about, but mightn’t it really be about a lot more? . . .

Image from Preserve Park Slope's Facebook page showing scale of Methodist expansion in context near Prospect Park in background 
. . . At the same time very significant expenditures will be directed into this Methodist expansion, state health department officials have been involved with the intricacies of shutting down nearby Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in Cobble Hill where it borders Brooklyn Heights.  Don’t let anyone tell you this isn’t a public spending issue: In the end it is all paid for and financed through the insurance and government reimbursement rates for which we all pay.  In addition to LICH, another nearby hospital, Interfaith Hospital, providing services to Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and Brownsville, is under threat.

Selling Off Long Island College Hospital Real Estate

Recent reports in the real estate press say that the closing of LICH would put 200,000 square feet of real estate on the market but that figure apparently considers just just the land itself.  More than 765,000 square feet of medical facility space would be shut down.  Whatever the total is, it's additional to other LICH medical care facility space that has already been shut down.  In 2008, LICH doctors, alleging the hospital’s real estate assets were being looted, were able to provide a list of previously sold LICH real estate that appeared in a new York Times article:
    •    The Lamm Institute, at 110 Amity Street, fetched $6.123 million

    •    The former International Longshoremen’s Association Medical Center at 340 Court Street, which had been used as a nurses’ residence, $24 million

    •    A building at 145 Sackett Street for $3.1 million

    •    St. Peter’s Church and School on Hicks Street, which had been used as a nursing and radiology school

    •    A dozen brownstones on Atlantic Avenue and Henry Street
(See: Doctors Say Hospital Is Falling Victim to Its Own Real Estate Value, By Anemona Hartcollis, June 10, 2008.)

The article said that the real estate in the last two bullets above, the dozen brownstones plus the church and schools, were sold off for the low-sounding figure of  “about $16 million.” (The big downturn in real estate prices following the peak of the bubble came later in September of 2008.)
A Google Earth view of the LICH complex, next to the BQE, elevated and overlooking expanses of harbor just a little further on
A much more recent New York Times article about LICH, almost exactly five years later, underscored the attraction of selling off LICH’s real estate, hardly making it seem like it should be going for low values:
With its dwindling patient population, the huge red brick building in Cobble Hill stands on the border of Brooklyn Heights, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline that make it more valuable as a real estate development site than as a medical center.
(See: Nurses Roam Empty Halls as Long Island College Hospital Is Prepared to Close, by Anemona Hartcollis, July 18, 2013.)
What a difference five years can make!  The “dwindling patient population” referred to in the summer 2013 article is due to the efforts the hospital owners are making to shut LICH down to effect those real estate sell-offs, even contravening recent court orders, but in the article five years ago Stanley Brezenoff, the president of Continuum, then the owner of the LICH, defended the real estate sales that were then transpiring in these terms:
He said that the company had no plans to close the hospital but acknowledged that it might soon be “reconfigured.”
What else was happening in those intervening five years?  Methodist was working on its plans for its expansion about two and half miles away.

The Real Estate Shell Game Model: St. Vincent's Hospital In Greenwich Village

In that article five years ago Mr. Brezenoff offered another, probably much more truthful observation:
He cited St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan, which has threatened to close if it is not given permission to move the hospital so that some of its landmarked property can be redeveloped into luxury condominiums.

“What’s St. Vincent’s except a real estate strategy?” Mr. Brezenoff said.
Indeed, in the end, with administrator’s eyes on that St. Vincent’s “real estate strategy” what survived at the end of the day was a real estate deal for a developer as St. Vincent’s hospital itself went bankrupt.  See: Tuesday, December 13, 2011, Tough Luck: Heads the Developer Wins, Tails the Public Loses. . Unprincipled Upzoning for Rudin Luxury Apartments at Former St. Vincent’s Site.

When stripped down, St. Vincent’s “real estate strategy” referred to by Mr. Brezenoff essentially amounted to the use of St. Vincent’s special status as a public institution providing “charitable” public benefit to sell off a portion of the Greenwich Village Historical District so as to build at greater density than would have otherwise been permitted.  Property the hospital was divesting itself of was to become residential development.  Some of that residential development involved converting existing health facilities and some was new construction at density greater than normally permitted in the historic district.  At the same time, entirely new facilities for the St. Vincent’s hospital were to be built where a historic building was being taken down.  The new hospital building was going to be enormous and tower over the historic district.

It was all a bit of a real estate shell game.  Those who may have been motivated by the real estate profits from the switcheroos and property put into play ultimately got what they wanted, but those charged with the job of continuing to provide the public with health care services failed.  There were many confusing moving parts and that failure was probably not something that most bystanders would have thought to predict before it happened, but it did.
A developer slide showing the proposed new St. Vincent's tower with a ghostliness that disguised how it wold tower over the historic district.
Model showing more clearly the change in scale a new St. Vincent's was to bring to the historic Greenwich Village Historic District neighborhood
Looked at as if it were a single combined transaction, the shrinkage and extermination of LICH with the concurrent expansion of Methodist, the next nearest hospital in Brooklyn, reiterates virtually all the same elements seen in the St. Vincent’s real estate shell game:
   •     Hospital property will recycled to become expensive new residential development in a very desirable neighborhood,

   •     Some of that residential development may wind up being new and at increased densities greater than the surrounding historic area,

   •     Meanwhile other buildings in a historic neighborhood (though in this case not yet themselves historically designated) will be leveled . . .

    •    . . . so that new hospital facilities can be built that tower over a historic district and recalibrate its sense of scale.
In this case will the new medical facility (unlike St. Vincent’s) actually be built and will it be a success?  That depends in large part on whether the health planning that underlies these ambitions is any good.  If good planning is shunted aside by those led by real estate motivations, like St. Vincent’s, that is far from assured.

Large new Methodist building would be on Park Slope's 8th Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets
Google view of where the expansion woul dbe expected to fit in on the block on the right
Expansion building would be bigger than these existing ones
Is the Methodist Expansion Really Needed?

The public’s worry in this regard should be accentuated by the fact that Thursday’s hearing before Community Board 6 is for a real estate variance to let the Methodist real estate plan proceed and it is being requested to be put in place before the New York State Department of Health has issued a “Certificate of Need” for the expansion, and even before an application has been submitted that frames and defines what this project's developer might argue that need is.  Why?

Meanwhile, events that likely affect such planning are unfolding without any planning the public can perceive.  For instance, after the fact, wouldn’t a sale of all of LICH’s properties make the issuance of a certificate of need for Methodist a tad more credible?  But, conversely, should LICH be shut down before it is decided it makes sense for Methodist to expand?

Build and expand the Methodist medical campus at great expense at the same time other health facilities are being demolished?  No articles in the press have been covering this, but Brooklynites seizing upon the opportunity to comment on an article about the Methodist expansion in the Brooklyn Paper saw the connection immediately and spontaneously debated it at length.

Building From Scratch vs. Utilizing Existing Resources

The conservative economic approach to creating additional value normally involves building upon existing resources rather than demolishing and starting again from scratch.

Nevertheless, it is not necessarily an apples to apples comparison.  With new technologies and surgeries that are more minimally invasive, there is an ongoing shift these days to ambulatory care not requiring hospital beds.  Methodist is reportedly not proposing to add additional beds in the course of its huge expansion, but LICH has many beds.  Methodist may actually be increasing the amount of space devoted to beds so as to have more private or semi-private rooms, while not actually increasing the number of beds (this is not clear).  Even so, adaptive reuse of existing facilities is almost always the least expensive way to go.

Location of Brooklyn Hospitals In Relation To Potential Clientele

Does it make sense to consolidate the shrinking bed population into an expensive and more massive Methodist complex?  One argument that is being given for selling off LICH is that the people in the relatively well-to-do neighborhoods surrounding it are more likely to travel to the major medical complexes of Manhattan for those significant medical needs they can shop for and premeditatedly plan for, thus bypassing the services of LICH except in an emergency.  Do the administrators of Methodist believe that the more super complex they seek to build in Park Slope will survive such an argument to the extent that it is true?  Or do they view themselves as being an extension of the Manhattan complexes because they are part of the growing Presbyterian network that includes the original Columbia Presbyterian complex?

My understanding is that Methodist has historically done well being able to draw from the reasonably wealthy surrounding Parl Slope area, but would a larger, built-up Methodist start drawing the Brooklyn client population that the LICH executioners say go to Manhattan?  If not, Methodist, like LICH or Interfaith, is left to draw from two remaining sets of client populations, those who need emergency care and those looking for local convenience in getting the kind of care that they feel can be dependably delivered without going to a major medical center.

Those two client population sets don’t benefit from a consolidated Brooklyn complex; they benefit from dispersed provisions of resources.  Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has issued a report as Public Advocate on the reduction of emergency response times if LICH or Interfaith are closed (see illustrative images below).   In terms of local convenience, Methodist is near a stop for the F and G trains, further from others, and difficult to get to by car.  Overall, it is not that convenient.  LICH is a little more accessible by public transportation, and, just off the BQE, more accessible by automobile.

In the future the nearest emergency room might be somewhere else a lot further off
LICH emergency room ambulances
Unknown Expense of Methodist Expansion

I have referred several times to the expense of the Methodist expansion.  What is that expense?  Interestingly, as the public debates these matters Methodist has produced no figures for what its expansion will cost.  That concealment of such critically relevant information is an indication that they don’t want the public to know or think about the expense and that the expense itself is a strong argument against the expansion.

Elsewhere in the system where the Presbyterian network has submitted a Certificate of Need (go to page 41) for a similar ambulatory faculty (including maternity hospital space) to be located at 1283 York Avenue (an extension located across the street from NYP-New York Weill Cornell Center Campus facilities at 525 East 68th Street in Manhattan) its estimated cost is $830,020,454.  Without making too fine a point of guessing the unfurnished Methodist cost figures, that Manhattan facility is comparably sized with a total floor area of 568,801 square feet.

Public vs. Private Expenses and Matters of Interest

Rather than furnish information about what the cost of the project will be Methodist has issued statements (including in its project fact sheet):

NYM intends to privately finance the project.
What that actually means is unhelpfully vague in world where PR descriptions are plastically used to describe the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” arena as privately paid for when it is financed by municipal bonds and a diversion of New York City’s tax revenue stream.  In 2004 municipal bonds issued by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (still outstanding), financed Methodist’s adjacent 100,000 square foot expansion.  It is likely that this new expansion would be similarly paid for by this low cost, taxpayer-subsidized source and certainly no enforceable promise that this would not ultimately be the case.  No matter what, in the end, the insurance payments together with public reimbursements from programs like Medicaid and Medicare, mean that these directed income streams are paying for all the capital improvements in our health care system.  In fact, that’s why health facilities are regulated and the state Department of Health issues Certificates of Need.  Without properly submitted plans at the state level New York cannot get the kind of waivers for funding it needs at the federal level.

It is interesting how protestations that enterprises are “private” are being used to keep the public out of decisions that concern it.  The publicly financed New York Public Library (note the word “public”) largely paid for with taxpayer dollars has also asserted that it should be able to make unimpeded decisions because it argues it is a “private” institution.

What's Planned, What May Happen, A Seismic Detour?

While the Methodist expansion costs may edge into the billion dollar territory and will further cost Park Slope by ripping its historic brownstone fabric, the bang-for-the-buck may be questionable.  Methodist is asserting that of the 300,000 square feet of programmable space in the proposed new building, 220,000 square feet would be used to relocate and concentrate existing services offered by Methodist, and only 80,000 square feet -- just a bit more than 25% -- would be used for expanding services.  See 1st attachment to the BSA application (letter from NYM Sr VP explaining programmatic need), at page 4.  A net gain of only 80,000 square feet?  Mightn’t it then be better to build something far smaller and cheaper, perhaps only adding 80,000 square feet of new services and leave other services where they already are?

But, if the expansion occurred in the fashion Methodist is now requesting might Methodist not actually give the existing space from which it says it will relocate these functions, or might it expend to reoccupy those spaces later?  Things don’t always happen as planned.
Methodist is not now proposing to expand in the way that was originally contemplated when the current zoning was established.  That similar alternative, discussed as an as-of-right alternative, would involve Methodist building on top of an above-and-underground parking lot built back around 2004, as they previously said they meant to do.  Methodist officials say the don’t want to go forward with their original plan because changes in the seismic provisions in the building code which the garage doesn’t meet would make this difficult:
A development consultant from Washington Square Partners said that building on the parking garage would be difficult because of a seismic building code.
(It don’t fit: Residents blast Methodist building plan, by Natalie Musumeci, The Brooklyn Paper, July 12, 2013.)
The relatively smaller existing Methodist buildings on Park Slope's commercial 7th Avenue
A very long paragraph in the Environmental Assessment Statement (Bottom of page K-8) under the heading, “COMPLYING DEVELOPMENT BUILDING SEGMENT OVER EXISTING BELOW-GRADE PARKING GARAGE” makes it seem all the more formidable with sentences like:
Next, the floors and the columns of the existing garage would be demolished because the necessary seismic retrofitting is not possible and the existing columns and foundations are not adequate to support the new 10-story structure that would be constructed on this portion of the site for the Complying Development. Minimal additional excavation would be required since the depth of the existing below-grade garage is already near the required depth of the proposed building. 
A garage recently built for the purpose of being the foundation for a future medical facility and it was not properly designed to withstand earthquakes?  Irrespective of whatever changes there have been to the New York building code with respect to potential seismic activity that seems like poor planning.  If inconvenient to build on it now would Methodist someday in the future build on this parking lot?
Some of Methodist's existing smaller buildings on 7th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue are cleverly scaled and styled to fit in fairly well with brownstones across the street
The Methodist Rationale For Not Taking Over LICH: Superior Methodist Management

It is my understanding that when Methodist officials have been asked why they shouldn’t take over LICH and its facilities instead of building its expansion they cite the superior management of Methodist.  But if management is the sole difference then a transplant of management would seem to be the solution, unless they mean that poor management at LICH has somehow compromised the LICH real estate and other physical assets.  It would seem unlikely that would really be the case.

Toomas M. Sorra, M.D. of Concerned Physicians of LICH tells us that he doubts those commenting negatively know anything “about the physical plant at LICH,” that:
the physical plant has never been an issue, the issue is SUNY's systematic destruction of LICH via closing departments, services, etc.
For more about the looting of LICH’s assets in Noticing New York articles see: Friday, February 15, 2013, Last Night’s Community Meeting To Save Long Island College Hospital- Pictures And The Big Picture and Wednesday, February 13, 2013, One-Stop Petition Shopping: Report On The Brooklyn Heights Association Annual Meeting, LICH and Libraries.

The proposition of getting rid of LICH is not just a question of getting rid of its management or its physical plant.  It is a move that also gets rid of existing staff and potentially unions.


Right now, in the sort of world we live in, unions provide one of the best, most stalwart defenses when a public asset like LICH is threatened when it should be preserved.  Unions, not always guaranteed to behave altruistically, can also introduce friction against changes in the status quo when such changes might benefit the public.  But, as in the case of conversions of public to charter schools, getting rid of unions represents one more thing that some may even have as a covert but important goal: As labor force pay scales decrease, the ability to jettison a union represents the elimination of bargained-for improvements in worker's lives.  If you come to things with a Bain Capital mind set this may be favorable viewed as “creative destruction,” or it may just be another expression of opportunistic greed.  The problem is that what is happening with our hospitals is already complicated enough without having also to take into account that these motivations also lurk in the mix to complicate matters further.  

One Roof or Two?

Is it really important to bring everyone to one location under one roof?  In upper Manhattan the Presbyterian runs the Allen Hospital which is about 2.9 miles north of the Columbia Presbyterian campus (with which it has integrated function), about the same distance LICH is from Methodist.

The Methodist Expansion Intrusion Into the Scale of Park Slope
7th Avenue on left.  8th Avenue on right.
Methodist provided drawings above from which the perhaps 17-residential stroy equivalent height of the building on 7th Avenue is difficult to calculate and discern.  Above the reverse: 8th Avenue on left.  7th Avenue on right.
What does the scale currently proposed for Methodist mean for Park Slope?
•    The new building, measuring from the down slope 7th Avenue side, is approximately the equivalent of 16 or 17 conventional residential stories.  The height as measured from the up slope side is 146 feet and the slope adds about 15 or twenty feet of height to that.  The Methodist materials seem like they were prepared to obscure that fact and make the measurements for the 7th Avenue side difficult.

•    The new building will likely be visible from Prospect Park.  As yet, there no visual representation showing what that will look like.

•    At least fifteen Park Slope townhouses will be sacrificed.
As Preserve Park Slope points out on its “Frequently Asked Questions” page, “For comparison, less than 1% of all the buildings in Park Slope rise above five stories, or about 50 feet.”  Preserve Park Slope also has an online petition: Oppose the Mega-Complex Being Proposed by New York Methodist Hospital.                   
Methodist rendering showing a view of the building not on context of the surrounding buildings of one third the height 
Again: Where's the neighborhood?

The renderings of the expansion released by Methodist show its building close up, not in the context of being three times the size of these surrounding buildings.
Townhouses on 8th Avenue across the street from where new Methodist Building would stand.  New building would eb three times as tall.
The scale at which people in Park Slope are accustomed to living happily?
From Preserve Park Slope- Does this image suffice to convey how the new hospital building would be three times the height of the 8th Avenue townhouses across the street
Another image from Preserve Park Slope
Any tall development comes with shadow studies.  See below. 
Here is a very short shadow study video animation from Preserve Park Slope: Shadow Study- Preserve Park Slope Preserve Park Slope.


Some advocates for development would assert that we should relentlessly proceed to levels of ever greater density and that, accordingly, greater and greater density for Park Slope is inevitable and desirable.  Maybe not.  Charles Montgomery has a new book out on the benefits of urban living, including the fact it apparently makes people happier: “Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.”  Even as he suggests that urban density helps people to be happier, he says that, based on surveys, there is a Goldilocks zone were people are happiest.  People living in cities are happier than those living in suburbs, but those living in city towers are not as happy as those living in more low-rise environments.  See: Does City Living Make Us Happy? Leonard Lopate Show, Monday, November 04, 2013
Google view showing how close the huge expansion would be to Prospect Park
A Bing version of that evidence
What might the expansion look like from Prospect Park?  Still guessing exactly.  Preserve Park Slope generated this image.
Insufficient Information To Reach The Right Decisions

Is Methodist’s big expansion the right decision for Park Slope?  Further, is it right for Brooklyn to close down other hospitals like LICH and Interfaith at the same time?  I have my suspicions that the answer is “No,” but I think that I and the rest of the public have a problem weighing in on these things at the present time because too little information has been furnished.  And yet hospital and state officials would proceed in closing LICH and would give the real estate approval needed to expand Methodist without such information being supplied.

I have asked Methodist a number of questions, intending to make this article more informative.  They have not replied.

What would I suggest to Community Board 6?. . . That it demand, at a minimum, that a Certificate of Need package be supplied before it considers what Methodist should be allowed to do with its real estate.  In addition, the future of LICH and Interfaith should be looked at in the context of an overall plan for Brooklyn’s hospitals.  That’s not where we are at the moment.

Where we are headed at the moment is the de facto implementation of what may be some pretty strange results, without having given any public consideration as to their likely lack of common sense.